Česká verze

Numbers of wolves in the Beskydy Mountains continue to stagnate

New study shows the influence of hunting on large carnivore occupancy in the Western Carpathians

6.4.2017, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA), Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic

A new study published in open-access journal PLOS ONE [1] explores factors behind the slow process of grey wolf recolonization in the Beskydy Mountains along the Czech-Slovak border. The area represents the edge of the wolf distribution in the Western Carpathians. Wolves, while legally hunted in Slovakia, are very rare in the Beskydy. Their absence contrasts with the more common occurrence of the Eurasian lynx, a species fully protected in both countries. Ungulate dynamics and wolf hunting in the core area in Slovakia appear to have a significant impact on wolf occurrence at the range margin.

The study was based on a large amount of data obtained through the 10-year field monitoring of large carnivores conducted by workers and volunteers of Friends of the Earth Czech Republic during the winters of 2003-2012. Scientists from the Czech Republic, Spain, and Sweden analysed the dataset along with factors such as legal hunting and prey availability in the core area. During the study period, around 74-159 wolves were legally culled every year across Slovakia.

Despite the proximity to the core area, with several wolf reproductions being confirmed in recent years within 10-50 km distance from the border, the wolf remained a very rare species in the Beskydy Mountains and was recorded 14 times less often than the lynx.  The chance of wolf detections in Beskydy increased with diminished numbers of prey in the core area in Slovakia.  A higher number of wolf killings in Slovakia also resulted in an increased frequency of wolf visits. This positive relationship could be explained by a possible hunting pressure mechanism. A disruption of pack dynamics after the loss of one of the breeders leads to more wolf dispersals wandering in the edge areas.

A wolf pack resting on snow covered hill

The study's lead author, Miroslav Kutal of Friends of the Earth CZ and Mendel University Brno, said:

"Although the current level of wolf hunting in Slovakia does not completely prevent the species from dispersing to other areas, it is likely to cause the breakdown of wolf packs in the population core area. At the edge of the Western Carpathians on the Czech-Slovak border, the occurrence of wolves remains sporadic - by contrast with the lynx, a species granted year-round protection in both countries, which is permanently present in the area with regular records of reproduction. Since 2013, there has been a significant increase of the total area where wolves are protected all year round in Slovakia. It is now important to assess in greater detail whether these areas are large enough to protect Slovakian wolf families and to allow the permanent return of the species to the Beskydy Mountains in a similar way the protection of wolves in Germany and Poland is helping their expansion to the northern and eastern Bohemia."

Dana Bartošová of Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, Beskydy PLA Administration comments:

"According to current scientific knowledge, the main food source of wolves consists of large ungulates, deer species in particular. Experience in Slovakia also shows that wolves can be very effective at regulating wild boar populations.  On the other hand, the hunting of wild deer can be difficult for single wolves, typically after the breakdown of a pack following the killing of some of its members; these individuals could prefer easier prey such as livestock. We must remember that wolves are highly social animals, usually living and hunting in packs. That is where their strength lies. It is crucial to protect wolf families as they significantly contribute to maintaining the ecological balance. The expansion of wolves to other areas is very desirable, particularly where the ecosystems are damaged by the overpopulation of species such as wild boars and invasive sika deer."

Slovakian wolf policy has changed in recent years after the European Commission launched the infringement against Slovakia in 2013. Wolves are now protected year-round in Natura 2000 sites where the species is a subject to protection, and within the buffer zone neighbouring with Poland and partly also along the Czech and Hungarian border. It is not clear whether these areas are large enough to allow wolf recovery at range margins.

So far, no pack has been confirmed in the Beskydy Mountains since the policy changed. On the other hand, three packs have been recorded since 2014 in the western part of the Czech Republic (Bohemia). Preliminary genetic analyses traced the origin of two packs to the Central European Lowland wolf population, currently expanding in the Western Poland and Germany where wolves are fully protected all year round.



Miroslav Kutal, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA) and Department of Forest Ecology, Faculty of Forestry and Wood technology, Mendel University Brno, miroslav.kutal@hnutiduha.cz

Dana Bartošová, the regional office of Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic - Beskydy PLA Administration, dana.bartosova@nature.cz

Jan Piňos, media and communications at Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA), jan.pinos@hnutiduha.cz



[1] Kutal  M., Váňa M., Suchomel J., Chapron G., Lopez-Bao J. V., 2016. Trans-Boundary Edge Effects in the Western Carpathians:  The Influence of Hunting on Large Carnivore Occupancy. PLoS One. 11, e0168292. Available online: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0168292



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